Although there will be no followup to the brilliant Modern Times album this year, Bob Dylan fans have plenty to be excited about in the month of October. With two new releases from Sony Legacy, the enigma that is Dylan is once again re-examined, and on at least one of these releases, some surprising new insights are revealed.
Dylan is the latest attempt to sum up Bob Dylan's remarkable career within the confines of a single release — an impossible task to be sure, even when said release contains multiple discs as this one does.
Interestingly, this is also the second Bob Dylan album to be released with the title of Dylan. The last album bearing that title consisted of outtakes from the Self Portrait album, and was released by Columbia in the early seventies out of what was believed by many to be spite, when Dylan briefly defected to Asylum Records to make the album Planet Waves. Long since out of print, the album is now considered a throwaway by many.
For this year's Dylan, Sony Legacy offers up a career spanning retrospective being released in three versions. One is a single disc compilation, while the other two are three disc editions — one of these being a deluxe boxed set version with the other being packaged in a more modest fold-out digi-pak sleeve.
Boiling the entire career of someone like Bob Dylan down to a compilation, even spread over three discs, is a ridiculous proposition by any stretch — there are just too many great songs to really fit. But far from being merely another album of Dylan's greatest hits, Dylan comes about as close to succeeding as can be reasonably expected. Dylan is also something of an interactive project, as fans were able to have a say in the song selection by voicing their opinions at the dylan07 website.
On the three disc version, Dylan's career is broken down into three distinct periods. Disc one covers the years 1962-1967 and the albums from his debut through John Wesley Harding. Disc two covers The Basement Tapes through 1985's Empire Burlesque, while the third disc goes from 1986's Knocked Out Loaded up to last year's Modern Times.
While hardcore Dylan fans will probably most appreciate the first two discs, it is the third that offers up the most surprises. Covering Dylan's eighties work on albums like Under A Red Sky and Down In The Groove — a period many dismiss as a low point in Dylan's career — the return visit offered here reveals that Dylan actually did some great, if under-appreciated work during this period.
A second listen to "Brownsville Girl" from Knocked Out Loaded for example, reveals a rather gorgeous tune with a great gospel arrangement. Likewise, "Silvio," from Down In The Groove offers a more uptempo read on Dylan's flirtation with the gospel sound. Three songs from the criminally under-appreciated Oh, Mercy are also offered here, including the only outtake on the set, "Dignity." Disc three closes out with selections from Dylan's "comeback" — the three critically lauded albums from this decade, Time Out Of Mind, Love & Theft, and Modern Times.